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Ventura County Transit upgrades to smart card

December 14, 2001
Santa Paula News

Ask bus riders what holiday gift they’d most like from their transit providers and they’ll tell you the ability to get on and off any bus without wondering what the fare is or having to fumble for exact change or mess with monthly stickers. On January 2, 2002, Ventura County bus riders are getting their wish. In cooperation with six independent transit systems serving the county, the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) announces the arrival of Go Ventura - the Next Generation Bus Pass. The cards went on sale December 17th at locations throughout the county.

Ask bus riders what holiday gift they’d most like from their transit providers and they’ll tell you the ability to get on and off any bus without wondering what the fare is or having to fumble for exact change or mess with monthly stickers. On January 2, 2002, Ventura County bus riders are getting their wish. In cooperation with six independent transit systems serving the county, the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) announces the arrival of Go Ventura - the Next Generation Bus Pass. The cards went on sale December 17th at locations throughout the county.“Ventura County’s transit agencies are among the forerunners in the country to harness newer electronic technologies to make using the bus easier for their customers, and to make the bus systems themselves more efficient,” said VCTC Chairman Brian Humphrey. “We are especially grateful for the commitment and cooperation of the individual agencies who came together to make this happen: South Coast Area Transit (SCAT), Simi Valley Transit, Thousand Oaks Transit, Camarillo Area Transit, Moorpark Transit and VISTA.”SCAT Board Chairman Joe DeVito agreed that customer convenience was the driving force behind the installation of Go Ventura on its buses. SCAT, with 43 of the 102 buses operating in the county, is the largest public transit provider. “The new Go Ventura card makes exact change and monthly stickers a thing of the past,” he said. “Based on the experience of other systems which have implemented the smart-card technology, we also expect the added convenience to attract new public transit users.”Bus Pass FlexibilityThe new Go Ventura pass can be used in two different ways, depending on how frequently an individual rides the bus. The card can be a monthly pass - the customer enjoys unlimited bus rides during one or more calendar months at a significant discount over cash fare prices. Go Ventura can also be purchased as an electronic purse; much like a prepaid phone card, the e-purse is a stored-value card that holds whatever amount the customer chooses to bank in it. Like monthly-pass users, e-purse holders enjoy a discount over cash fares. The card stores information about special fare categories such as discounts available to seniors or persons with disabilities, and automatically deducts the correct amount. All of the bus systems will continue to accept exact change and recognize valid passes and tokens.VCTC Executive Director Ginger Gherardi emphasized that there is no cost for the new bus pass. “There will be no charge to buy a Go Ventura card beyond the customary amount for a monthly pass or, in the case of an e-purse, the dollar amount the passenger wants to put on the card,” she said. “And there is a measure of protection not possible with paper passes. It used to be that if you lost your bus pass, you were out the money you paid for it. If, however, you lose your Go Ventura monthly pass, you can get a replacement for $5.”The Go Ventura card may be purchased at 12 locations throughout the county. The card is also available by mail, or by phone using a MasterCard or VISA, through the VCTC office. E-purse holders can add value to their cards at the sales locations, by mail, by phone and even while on-board select buses. Passengers who may be entitled to special fare discounts - seniors and persons with disabilities - must buy their first card in person at one of the sales locations because they will be asked to show proof of eligibility.SCAT General Manager Deborah Linehan observed that while the Go Ventura card allows passengers to freely transfer among bus systems, the technology enables each of the independent transit agencies to retain its own fare structure and promotional programs. “That’s important to us,” she said. “Transit is a public service, and it’s critical to each of the systems that we be able to target and serve our particular community.”Linehan continued, “We also appreciate the advanced data collection capabilities of the new system. Expedient, accurate ridership data will be very useful from a planning perspective, and it will greatly facilitate our agency’s ability to fulfill reporting requirements.”
Go Ventura TechnologySteve DeGeorge, VCTC’s director of new technology, heads up the Go Ventura program. He said that the smart-card technology behind Go Ventura is actually several technologies bundled to automate fare collection and collect information about passenger boardings, bus schedule adherence and other issues that transit planners can use to improve passenger services and optimize the use of transit resources. Transit operators that have implemented electronic fare collection technologies attest, too, to the savings and improved security that comes with reduced cash and token handling.DeGeorge further described the Go Ventura pass as a “contactless” medium. “Since contactless cards do not require physically inserting or swiping a fare card, Go Ventura users won’t even have to take their bus pass out of their wallet or purse. This will certainly make riding the bus much easier for persons with disabilities,” DeGeorge said.CSUCI-VCTC PartnershipThe Go Ventura system is being designed to facilitate future integration into regional transit services, including Metrolink, and can be expanded to non-transit uses as well. One such non-transportation application is the dual use of the card as a university identification and transit pass by California State University at Channel Islands (CSUCI). Officials at the Camarillo university location are working with VCTC to make CSUCI a “green campus.” To alleviate cars and attendant air quality impacts, the university is limiting parking and promoting the use of public transit. In addition to serving as a student/faculty ID, CSUCI-issued cards will allow cardholders unlimited use of county bus services. In the future, the cards may incorporate the ability to make campus bookstore purchases through a stored-value application and other uses.Project Cost and ContractorThe Go Ventura investment, including developing, testing and installing the system as well as the capital costs of fare collection equipment and sales location and back office hardware and software, totals $1.7 million. The project was paid for using federal and state transportation funds.To develop and install the Go Ventura system, VCTC contracted with ERG Transit Systems, an Australian-based company and world leader in the development of advanced smart-card systems and integrated fare management services for the transit industry. ERG was similarly contracted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Northern California to develop a regional transit fare payment system using smart-card technology.